Clear opportunities

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How transparent electronics may boost the displays and solar energy markets.

Windows – the glass variety – have hardly changed in hundreds of years. But if research into new kinds of materials fulfils its promise, the humble window could become as good an electronic display as any large screen tv, thanks to transparent electronics (TE). Still in its relative infancy, TE started in 2003 when a group of researchers working on new combinations of materials at Oregon State University (OSU), demonstrated a transparent transistor created using zinc oxide. Since then, OSU has changed its strategy slightly, as the group’s leader and head of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, Professor John Wager, explains. “We are now working on amorphous oxide semiconductors; multicomponent combinations of materials, for example indium oxide combined with zinc oxide, or zinc oxide combined with tin oxide. But the one receiving the most attention internationally is indium gallium zinc oxide.” Because these materials are amorphous (non crystalline), they should be easier to make than alternative polycrystalline materials. This could be crucial; amorphous oxide semiconductors are attracting so much attention because they look like an excellent prospect, ultimately, for replacing another amorphous material that has created a $100bn a year market – amorphous silicon.